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Watch the Birdie!

English: An illustration of Blue Tits by Henri...
Image via Wikipedia

This morning finds us perched on the counter in the utility room, binoculars in hand, the RSPB’s list of common garden birds in the other. I’ve instructed my daughter to be mouse-quiet so as not to frighten our feathered friends away, but she’s so excited about taking part in this national survey that she can’t stop herself occasionally bursting into song or throwing a few dance steps to release her pent-up energy.

This term her class topic is the Awesome Environment, so our adoption of birdwatching as our new hobby for 2012 is timely.

Unfortunately the level of our knowledge is not so helpful. The sort of birds I recognise most readily are unlikely to be seen pecking up the toast crumbs and bacon rind outside our back door.  There will be no penguins, puffins, pelicans, parrots or flamingos.  A peacock is pretty unlikely – though we did once have one pass through our village.  As to an oven-ready chicken – no, I don’t think so. Laura’s pretty confident about blue-tits, but we’re still slightly unsure if what we’ve just seen is a female blackbird. (It’s not helping us by not being black.) But we’re elated when we spot and correctly identify a chaffinch and a collared dove.  Well, it’s a start.

But then a black and white creature appears that is definitely not on our bird-spotting guide: it’s got four legs and fur.  Go away, next door’s cat, go away! No wonder the birds have all dispersed. A little later a marmalade monster stalks through from the other direction, and I realise why birdwatching never really caught on in this household before: we’ve only recently stopped keeping a cat ourselves (the last in a long line died, ending a 20 year feline reign). No wonder I’m no great shakes at identifying species – yet.

Logo of the RSPB
Image via Wikipedia

When we set the kitchen timer for the hour-long stint demanded by the RSPB. I wasn’t optimistic that Laura would hold out for the full sixty minutes.  I considered negotiating for shifts, but that seemed defeatist.

And I’m glad that I didn’t give in, because throughout the hour we enjoy each other’s company as we sit comparing notes. I’m ashamed to say I can’t think of the last time we did something sedentary together for such a long stint, other than watching a film. Stories and games never last that long, and setting aside an hour seems an extravagant use of time in our action-packed days.

To be forced to share this hour on a calm, quiet, shared activity turns out to be pure luxury and it passes all too quickly. When the timer finally pings, we feel as calm as if we’d just done an hour’s yoga (something we used to enjoy together when she was a toddler). Thanks to the intervention of our furry neighbours, we’ve only seen a few dozen birds, but I think our ornithological interest has become permanently engaged. You’d better look out, birds,  we’re watching you….

(It’s not too late to join the world’s biggest birdwatch: click here for more information.)

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English author of warm, witty cosy mystery novels including the popular Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries and the Gemma Lamb/St Bride's School series. Novels published by Boldwood Books, all other books by Hawkesbury Press. Represented by Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agents. Founder and director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. Course tutor for Jericho Writers. UK Ambassador for the Alliance of Independent Authors. Lives and writes in her Victorian cottage in the heart of the beautiful Cotswold countryside.

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